Edwin Hatch.

The organization of the early Christian churches : eight lectures delivered before the University of Oxford, in the year 1880 online

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Cibrarp of <the theological ^emmarp


The Estate of the Rev.
Charles Benjamin Segelken, P. D.

BR 45 .B3 1888
Hatch, Edwin, 1835-1889.
The organization of the
early Christian churches

RP 4«S -R^ 1RS8




The Organization

of THE

(Barljj Christian djurcljss


Delivered before the University of Oxford, in the Year 1880

Ob the Foundation of the late Bev. John Bampton, M.A.




(Stghtl) jtmpteggton











" I give and bequeath my Lands and Estates to the

" Chancellor, Masters, and Scholars of the University of
" Oxford for ever, to have and to hold all and singular the
" said Lands or Estates upon trust, nnd to the intents and
" purposes hereinafter mentioned ; that is to say, I will and
" appoint that the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ox-
" ford for the time being shall take and receive all the rents,
" issues, and profits thereof, and (after all taxes, reparations,
" and necessary deductions made) that he pay all the re-
" mainder to the endowment of eight Divinity Lecture Ser-
" mons, to be established for ever in the said University, and
" to be performed in the manner following :

" I direct and appoint, that, upon the first Tuesday in
" Easter Term, a Lecturer be yearly chosen by the Heads
" of Colleges only, and by no others, in the room adjoining
" to the Printing-House, between the hours of ten in the
" morning and two in the afternoon, to preach eight, Divinity
" Lecture Sermons, the year following, at St. Mary's in Ox-
" ford, between the commencement of the last month in Lent
" Term, and the end of the third week in Act Term.


" Also I direct- and appoint, that the eight Divinity Lecture
Sermons shall be preached upon either of the following- Sub-
jects — to confirm and establish the Christian Faith, and to
confute all heretics and schismatics — upon the divine au-
thority of the holy Scriptures — upon the authority of the
writings of the primitive Fathers, as to the faith and prac-
tice of the primitive Church — upon the Divinity of our Lord
and Saviour Jesus Christ — upon the Divinity of the Holy
Ghost — upon the Articles of the Christian Faith, as compre-
hended in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds.

"Also I direct, that thirty copies of the eight Divinity Lec-
ture Sermons shall be always printed, within two months
after they are preached ; and one copy shall be given to the
Chancellor of the University, and one copy to the Head of
every College, and one copy to the Mayor of the city of
Oxford, and one copy to be put into the Bodleian Library ;
and the expense of printing them shall be paid out of the
revenue of the Land or Estates given for establishing the
Divinity Lecture Sermons; and the Preacher shall not be
paid, nor be entitled to the revenue, before they are

<f Also I direct and appoint, that no person shall be quali-
fied to preach the Divinity Lecture Sermons, unless he hath
taken the degree of Master of Arts at least, in one of the
two Universities of Oxford or Cambridge ; and that the
same person shall never preach the Divinity Lecture Ser-
mons twice."


The third edition of these Lectures is a reprint of the

The discussions to which they have given rise, both at
home and abroad, seem to have turned less upon the lead-
ing propositions which they endeavour to establish, than
upon the accuracy of the views which they express on points
which, however interesting in themselves, are yet subordinate
to the main issues. While, for example, there has been much
debate as to the precise character of the original functions of
the bishop, the larger and more important propositions that
church officers were in no case part of an original framework,
but arose out of subsequent historical circumstances, and
that bishops and deacons arose out of different circumstances
from presbyters, have not met with any serious opposition.
On this latter, as on some other points, the views expressed
in these Lectures have received a remarkable confirmation
from the Teaching of the Apostles.

At the same time the writer is far from wishing to imply
that the last word has been said as to the origin and early
development of Christian organization. The study of primitive
Christianity is only in its infancy : and the function of a work
like the present is rather to stimulate enquiry, and to point
out the lines along which enquiry must proceed, than to
assume that its ' media axiomata' are the final inductions
which competent scholars will be able to make when the
evidence has been fully collected and adequately discussed.

February 8, 1888.




The present Lectures are an attempt to apply to a particular group
of historical phenomena the methods which have been fruitful of
results in other fields of history : the preliminary assumption being
made that, as matter of historical research, the facts of ecclesiastical
history do not differ in kind from the facts of civil history pp. 1-3

But it will be fitting, before applying those methods to new subject-
matter, to consider the special difficulties of that subject-matter, and
thereby, incidentally, to ascertain some of the causes which have led
to existing divergences of opinion . . . . . p. 3

I. The first step in all historical enquiries is to test the documents
which contain the evidence, with the view of ascertaining whether
they are what they profess to be, and if they are not, what is their
probable origin and their date. In the present enquiry the difficulty
arises both from the great extent of the documents, and from the
fact that the best literary criticism has not yet been applied to
more than a few groups of them ..... pp. 3-5

II. The second step in such enquiries is to weigh the value of the
evidence. In the present enquiry the difficulties vary with the
nature of the documents :

x Synopsis of Contents.

(i) In patristic literature there is (i) the difficulty which arises
from the fact that late Latin and Greek are very imperfectly
known, (ii) that which arises (a) from the tendency to con-
found the theological or homiletic value of a Father with his
value as a witness to fact, (b) from the tendency to ignore the
question of his probable means of observation . . pp. 5— 7

(2) In conciliar literature there is the difficulty which arises, in
all but the (Ecumenical Councils, from the question of the
extent to which a canon of a local council proves the existence
of a general rule. This difficulty is increased by the fact of
the distinctions between the various local councils having been
to a great extent obliterated by their incorporation in the code
of Canon Law ....... pp. 7"~9

And in regard to all the evidence, whether patristic, or conciliar, or
otherwise, there are two primary distinctions the ignoring of which
has contributed more than any other single cause to the existing
divergences of opinion : these are

(1) The distinction of time. The period which Christian history
covers is so large a portion of the whole field of recorded
history that in a survey of it the wide differences between
one century and another are apt to be overlooked : and yet
until the exact historical surroundings of a given fact are
known, its significance cannot be known . . pp. 9-1 1

(2) The distinction of locality. The space over which Christianity
has extended has been the whole civilized world, with its great
varieties of race and national character : the significance of
a fact varies widely according as it belongs to one country
or another ....... pp. 11— 1 a

III. These are the preliminary steps : they are followed by the com-
parison of the facts, so ascertained and so localized, with other facts,
with the view of ascertaining their causes : nor is such an enquiry
barred pp. 12-14

This comparison is made on two principles :

(1) Any given group of facts has to be compared with preceding
and succeeding facts of the same kind, with the view of finding
out the law of their sequence. The main difficulty of that
process in the present enquiry arises from the fact of the per-

Synopsis of Contents. xi

manence of words, and the more or less unconscious assumption
that their connotation has also been constant . pp. 15-16
(2) Any given group of facts has to be compared with the sum of
contemporary facts, with the view of finding out resemblances,
and then proceeding to the enquiry how far similar facts are
the result of the same causes .... pp. 16—17

In regard to this last point the contention may be made that such
a comparison will not hold, because the phenomena of Christian
history are unique . . . . . . . . p. 17

It is true that they are of transcendent interest and importance : but
if they, or any part of them, can be accounted for by causes which
are known to have operated in the production of similar phenomena,
under similar conditions of society, the presumption, in the absence
of positive evidence to the contrary, will be in favour of those who
infer an identity of cause ...... pp. 17-19

It may be contended, again, that such an explanation of the phenomena
of Christian history, or any part of them, is inconsistent with a belief
in their divine origin . . . . . . . p. 1 9

On the other hand, in the greatest things as in the least God works by
an economy of causes : and the belief that existing forces of society
operated in the organization of the Church, so far from being incon-
sistent with, is rather confirmatory of, the belief that that organiza-
tion was of His ordering ...... pp. 19-20

Such are the methods of the enquiry. In applying them it is proposed
to begin at the beginning and to investigate each group of facts in
the order of time. It is not proposed to discuss the ecclesiastical
polity of the New Testament, (1) because that polity seems, merely
as a question of exegesis, to admit of various constructions, (2) be-
cause the purpose of God will be more certainly gathered from
the investigation of what He has caused to be. But commencing
where the New Testament ends, the steps in the formation of that
great confederation of Christian societies which is found in exist-
ence in the Middle Ages will be successively traced and accounted
for ......... pp. 20-23

(In all this, it must be carefully borne in mind, the subject-matter
under consideration will be not Christian doctrine, but only the
framework of the Christian societies) , , . pp. 23-25

xii Synopsis of Contents.



There was a general tendency in the early centuries of the Christian
era towards the formation of associations, and especially of religious
associations ........ pp. 26-28

It was consequently natural that the early converts to Christianity
should combine together : the tendency to do so was fostered by
the Apostles and their successors, and at last, though not at first,
became universal pp. 29-30

There were many points in which these Christian communities re-
sembled contemporary associations : outward observers sometimes
placed them in the same category : the question arises, What, qua
associations, was their point of difference % . . . pp. 30-32

The answer will be found in a consideration of the circumstances of
the times : they were times of great social strain : almost all the
elements of an unsound state of society were present : the final
decay was later : but in the meantime the pressure of poverty was
severe. Societies like the Christian societies, in which almsgiving
was a primary duty, and which brought into the Graeco-Roman
world that regard for the poor which had been prominent in
Judaism, were thus at once differentiated by the element of philan-
thropy pp. 32-36

The importance of the philanthropic element in the Christian societies
gave a corresponding importance to the administrative officers, by
whom fuuds were received and alms dispensed : in other associations
such officers were called eVi/tieXqrut, or tnio-KOTtoi : it is therefore
natural to find that one of these names was adopted for the corre-
sponding officers of the Christian societies . . pp. 36-39

But how was it that this came to be the name not of a body of officers,
but of a single officer? The question is a double one: it resolves
itself into the questions (1) How was it that a single officer came to
exist? (2) How was it that when such an officer came to exist the
special name which clung to him was that of emaKonos t . p. 39

The first of these questions will be answered in Lecture IV : the
Becoud is answered here.

Synopsis of Contents. xiii

The answer seems to lie in the fact that the offerings of the early
Christians were made publicly to the president in the assembly, who
was also primarily responsible for their distribution. The place
which the president occupied in the eye of the assembly was chiefly
that of an administrator : and the name which was chiefly applied
to him was relative thereto ..... pp. 40-42

This hypothesis is confirmed by the fact that the importance of the
functions of the president as chief administrator increased largely as
the Christian societies grew. In an age of poverty Christians were
exceptionally poor: and not only the numbers but the kinds of
persons for whom the Christian societies undertook to provide mul-
tiplied as years went on. The bishop had to provide not only for
the destitute, but also for the confessors in prison, for widows and
virgins, for the church officers, and above all for strangers on their
travels ......... pp. 42-46

It is further confirmed

(1) By the fact that so many of the abuses of the episcopal office
against which provision is made in civil and canon law are
relative to his administration of church funds.

(2) By the fact that the current conceptions of the office which
are expressed in literature are also in no small degree relative
to administration ...... pp. 46-4S

It is probable that in the first instance the administrative officers of
the Christian societies constituted a single class. But very early in
Christian history a division of labour became necessary pp. 48-49

The nature of this division is shown by the testimony of Justin Martyr,
Polycarp, and the Clementines : the bishops were assisted by officers
entitled ' deacons,' who were in regard to almsgiving the actual
officers of distribution, and in regard to discipline the officers of
enquiry pp. 49-50

In course of time the functions of the deacons were altered by the
operation of two causes —

(1) The rise of the conception of an analogy between the Christian
and the Mosaic dispensations, in which the deacons were regarded
as corresponding to the Levites, and in which consequently their
subordination to presbyters was accentuated . . p. 52

(2) The larger scale on which the Christian societies came to

xiv Synopsis of Contents.

exist, and the consequent substitution of institutions for per-
sonal relief by a church officer . . . . . p. 52
But the primitive theory of their close relation to the bishop survives
in the position of the cwch&eacon . . . . . p. 54



The system of government by heads of families, or the seniors of a
tribe, is found to have been in existence in many parts of the world,
and especially in Palestine ...... pp. 56-57

The administration of justice and of local affairs was there in the hands
of the ' elders' of the several localities, who formed a ' synedrion ' or
local court pp. 57-58

The institution of these local courts was so intimately interwoven with
Jewish life, that the Jews carried it with them into the countries of
the dispersion, where the Roman government allowed them to retain,
to a great extent, their own internal administration . pp. 58-60

There was thus in the Jewish communities, not only in Palestine but
outside it, to which in the first instance the Apostles addressed them-
selves, a council of elders. And since the several communities were
independent of each other, there was no reason why, when a com-
munity had as a whole accepted Christianity, its internal organiza-
tion should be changed : there is consequently a presumption that
the Judaeo-Christian communities continued to be governed by
councils of elders ....... pp. 60-62

But assuming this to be true of Christian communities which had
originally been Jewish, or in which Jewish influence predominated,
how are we to account for the existence of a similar institution in
communities which were wholly or chiefly Gentile ? . p. 62

The answer is that such an institution was in entire harmony with

contemporary circumstances : government by a council, and that a

council of elders, is found also in the contemporary Gentile world.

(1) Government by a senate or council was universal in the

Roman municipalities, and in the associations with which the

Synopsis of Contents. xv

Christian Churches have, in other respects, so many points of

contact PP- 62-63

(2) The respect for seniority was great, and in some cases out of
the larger body of a senate or council special powers were given
to a committee of seniors, whose members bore the same name

as the Jewish ' elders ' pp. 63-66

The elements of the institution of a council of elders being thus found
in the Gentile world, it is not necessary to account for the existence
of the presbyterate in Gentile Churches by the hypothesis of a direct
transfer from Jewish Churches ..... pp. 66—67

At the same time the influence of the Jewish Churches was strong
enough to cause that out of the various names which originally
attached to the governing council that of ' presbyter ' alone survived,
and that out of the various functions which they originally dis-
charged those which survived were those which had been the chief
functions of the Jewish ' synedria' .... pp. 67-68

For the Christian councils

(1) Exercised discipline, and that in a stricter way than the
Jewish councils had done, inasmuch as the Christian standard
of morality was higher ..... pp. 69-72

(2) Exercised consensual jurisdiction between Christian and
Christian, as the Jewish councils had done between Jew and
Jew. And to this jurisdiction the members of the Churches
were urged to submit, on the authority of our Lord Him-
self pp. 7 2 "73

These functions of the primitive council of presbyters have necessarily
been modified in the lapse of time, and chiefly by two circum-
stances :

(1) The discipline which was possible in a small community was
impossible in a larger : and in the stern fight for Christian
doctrine a lessening stress came to be laid upon Christian
morality pp. 73~74

(2) The recognition of Christianity by the State (a) narrowed
the border-line between the Church and the world, (b) tended
to limit ecclesiastical jurisdiction . . . pp. 75 — 77

In the meantime other functions which were once in the background
have become prominent : they owe that prominence to the fact that

xvi Synopsis of Contents.

whereas in primitive times a presbyter was a member of a council,
acting with others, he has come, as a rule, to act alone. These
functions are

(i) ' The ministry of the word,' which in early days was not neces-
sarily the function of a presbyter at all . . pp. 77-78
(2) 'The ministry of the sacraments,' which has arisen from the
disappearance of the primitive theory that each community
should be complete in itself, and the consequent practice of
placing a single presbyter, rather than a bishop with his council
of presbyters, at the head of a detached community pp. 79-81



The earliest references to church officers speak of them in the plural :
in the course of the second century one of them is mentioned
separately, and evidently stands to the rest in a relation of priority
of rank . p. 83

I. How is this fact to be accounted for ?
There are two antecedent probabilities :

(1) In contemporary associations, both public and private, the
institution of a president was universal : it is therefore ante-
cedently probable that the Christian societies, which in their
organization had so many features in common with those associa-
tions, would be borne along with this general drift pp. 84-86

(2) In the Christian societies themselves the institution of a
president or chairman of the administrative body tended, as
time went on, to become a practical necessity . pp. 86-87

There are also two groups of known causes :

(1) In some cases a single officer had been designated by the Apo-
stles, in others the personal influence of an officer had procured
for him a position of exceptional predominance . pp. 87-88

(2) The theory of the nature of Church government which pre-
vailed in the second century was that it was a temporary ex-
pression of the government which would exist when the Lord

Synopsis of Contents, xvii

returned : on this theory a president, who should sit in the
place of the absent Lord, was an indispensable element in the
constitution of a Christian society . . . pp. 88—90

II. These probabilities and facts seem adequate to account for the
institution of a president : but they are not adequate to account for
the special relation of supremacy in which the president ultimately
came to stand to the rest of the body of officers . . pp. 90-9 1

The causes of that supremacy will be found in the relations of Chris-
tianity to contemporary thought. The contact of Christianity with
the Jewish school of philosophy which had its chief centre at Alex-
andria had created, within Christianity itself, a school of thinkers
which claimed the right to almost unlimited speculation pp. 91-94

This forced the consideration of the problem, "What was the intellectual
basis upon which those communities should exist? . pp. 94-95

The solution of this problem was found in the theory that Apostolic
doctrine, which, though in different senses, all sections of Christians
accepted as the basis of union, was neither vague nor esoteric, that
it had been definitely preserved in the churches which the Apostles
had founded, and that in those churches there was no important
variety of opinion respecting it ..... pp. 96-97

Of this ' fides apostolica ' the bishops of the Apostolic Churches, like
the heads of the Rabbinical schools, were the especial conservators :
hence they had an exceptional position of supremacy as being the
centres at once of Christian truth and of Christian unity pp. 97-99

(This is substantially the view of St. Jerome) . . . . p. 99

III. The position which the president thus acquired through the
necessity for unity of docti-ine was consolidated by the necessity for
unity of discipline. The question of the readmission of the ' lapsed,'
and the laxity and variety of the modes in which, at first, they were
readmitted, forced upon the churches the recognition of a uniform
rule. This uniformity was secured by requiring all readmissions to
have the approval of the president .... pp. 100-103

Two results flowed from the recognition of the bishop's supremacy:
(i) It became a rule that there should be only one bishop in «,
city. The recognition of the rule dates from the third century,
and was a result of the controversy between the two parties in

xviii Synopsis of Contents.

the Church of Rome, each of which elected its own hishop.
Cyprian's opposition was successful : he contended that after the
legitimate election of one bishop, the election of another bishop
by another section of the community was void . pp. 103-106
(2) The earlier conception of the bishop as occupying the place of
Christ gave place to the conception that he occupied the place
of an Apostle : and stress came to be laid upon the fact that in
some Churches successive bishops had occupied in unbroken
continuity the seat which once an Apostle had filled. A later
expansion of the conception, which has survived until modern
times, regarded such bishops as having succeeded not only to
the seat which an Apostle filled, but also to the powers which
an Apostle possessed ..... pp. 106-109

But in spite of the great development of the supremacy of the bishop,

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